Jimmie Johnson got his 2012 Chase campaign off to the best possible start by claiming pole position for Sunday's GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, the first of the ten post-season play-off races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship.
"I felt really good about that lap," he said immediately after his qualifying run, which came early in the session after an intentionally slow showing in the Friday practice runs that determined the running order.
"We were trying to be smart, but at the same time we wanted to work on race trim in that first practice and stayed focused on it," said Johnson of their strategy going into qualifying. "We felt like the second practice session the temps would be closer to know than anything. It just kind of worked into our favour that way."
Johnson has another security blanket boosting him in qualifying, with the Hendrick Motorsports team having specifically kept a tried-and-tested car to use here in Chicago this weekend.
"This car has ran twice and we didn't want to hurt it," revealed Johnson. "It's been sitting there since Indy waiting to run again," he said, explaining that the squad routinely set aside "cars that we like. When we have success with cars, we'll push them off to the side as we get closer to the Chase. I don't want to screw up the record this car has. It's been awfully good for us."
Johnson and his team will certainly be hoping that this car lives up to expectations and doesn't meet with any ill fortune during Sunday's 400-mile race, which Johnson will start from the front after his lap of 29.530s (182.865mph) was 0.037s faster than Richard Petty Motorsports' Aric Almirola who will start alongside him on the second row.
"I am happy with that," said Almirola, happy with the way that the weekend is going so far. "It is going really good. We unloaded with a really good car, a really stable car. It drove really nice right off the truck so we have just been fine tuning it."
Almirola is not involved in the Chase, but both cars starting on the second row are - Johnson's Hendrick team mate Dale Earnhardt Jr. cinched third and Roush Renway Racing's Matt Kenseth is alongside him in fourth.
“The car was awesome, real good, good grip," said Earnhardt. "One and two felt awesome, good speed; three and four were a little bit tight," he added. "We were real happy with the car yesterday. It had good speed in practice, felt real comfortable with the car. I'm looking forward to it."